Poetry prompts – writing from mentor text poems

Teach Living Poets LogoToday’s post will provide a lesson, inspired by the body, that has students free-writing, reading several mentor text poems, viewing a video performance of a mentor text poem, and finally writing a poem. My students had fun with this lesson, and produced impressive work! In all, it took us about three 50-minute class periods to get through. Another couple of days could be added on if you decided to workshop their poems in class. 


My students keep a writer’s notebook throughout the year, in which they are constantly adding ideas, interesting words, inspirations, and lots and lots of word lists to help them when they need a little spark when writing a poem. All of the following pre-writing responses will be written in their notebooks. 


I found this brainstorming idea in The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice by Kelli Russell Agodon & Marth Silano (Two Sylvias Press, 2013).




My students enjoyed sharing their scar stories. (Volunteers only, of course.) There were funny stories and sad stories, and it was an engaging and effective way to learn more about each other.

Mentor text poems

Exploring mentor texts is one of the ways I fit in reading tons of poems by contemporary poets. In fact, in Creative Writing class, I only use the works of living poets. 

First up, a video of Elizabeth Acevedo, author of The Poet X and Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths, performing her poem “Hair”:

There was actually a #TeachLivingPoets Twitter chat on Acevedo’s “Hair” in July 2018, hosted by educator extraordinaire, Sarah Soper. The questions we discussed can be seen below. Monthly Twitter chats are held (usually) on the last Tuesday of each month at 8:30-9:00pm EST. If you haven’t checked one out yet, it’s never too late to start! We’d love to have you for our next chat – which is a combined chat with #THEBOOKCHAT – on Sunday, Nov. 4 at 9:00pm EST on Jose Olivarez’s collection Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books, 2018).

Here are the questions we chatted about for “Hair”:

IMG_7698 You could discuss most of these same questions in your class with your students after watching the video a couple times. I also ask them to discuss the symbolic associations Acevedo makes with hair in the poem. 


For the remainder of the mentor poems, I print them out for students on a handout all together for them to make marginalia, underline words that jump out to them, etc. 

  • Rafael Campo “Cardiology” (Poem-a-day, Academy of American Poets, March 2018)
  • Victoria Chang “There are Lungs” (from Barbie Chang, Copper Canyon Press, 2017)
  • Eve Ewing “why you cannot touch my hair” (from Electric Arches, Haymarket Books, 2017)
  • Jacob Saenz “Mad About Cows” (from Throwing the Crown, Copper Canyon Press, 2018)


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Writing Prompt

Time to write. Using their pre-writing as inspiration and fodder, students draft a poem inspired by the body. It can be their body or not, as long as they are being respectful. No body shaming or otherwise hurtful poems allowed. Not that I expect them to do that, but I’m a mom and I always feel compelled to give the unnecessary warnings whether they need to hear them or not. “Drive safe.” “Be careful.” “Don’t write hurtful things about others.”  It’s just part of who I am. It also causes a lot of eye rolls. Sorry not sorry.

Beyond this point, you can allow students workshop opportunities in class, although not all student might be comfortable sharing their poem. So if you plan on doing this, I suggest telling them up front so they are aware before they start writing. You could also have volunteers read their poems out loud for the class. I do this with all of the poems we write in class, and students have to share at least three of their choice (out of about a dozen or so) throughout the semester.  

Thank you for reading!

You can follow me on Twitter at @MelAlterSmith

2 thoughts on “Poetry prompts – writing from mentor text poems

  1. Pingback: Resources | #TeachLivingPoets

  2. Pingback: Exploring “Heart to Heart” by Rita Dove | #TeachLivingPoets

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